The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ralph R. Erickson, Chief Judge United States District Court
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
Before the Court is Defendant Manuel Quintero's motion to suppress evidence seized from a warrantless hotel room search (Doc. #40). The United States filed a brief in opposition (Doc. #42). The Court, having considered all of the briefs and documents filed by the parties as well as the evidence and arguments presented at the July 28, 2010 hearing, now issues this memorandum opinion and order.
The Court, having weighed all of the evidence, finds Michelle Quintero impliedly consented to the law enforcement officers' entry into her and her husband's hotel room, but did not voluntarily consent to a search of the room. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to suppress evidence is GRANTED.
On September 15, 2009, security officers for Dakota Magic Casino and Hotel in Hankinson, North Dakota (hereafter "the hotel") contacted the Richland County Sheriff's Office to report a light bulb located in Room 108 that they believed appeared to be used as a smoking device for narcotics. Manuel Quintero (hereafter "Manuel") had been the registered guest in the room. Co-Defendant Michelle Quintero (hereafter "Michelle"), Manuel's wife, was registered to check into the hotel again that night. Agent Jason Weber, Drug Task Force Agent with the Richland County Sheriff's Office, testified that when he received the call from the hotel, he was familiar with the Quinteros. He told the hotel to contact his office again when the Quinteros checked back into the hotel.
The hotel called later in the day to advise the sheriff's office that Manuel and Michelle and two other females checked into the hotel. Agent Weber asked the hotel to keep the Quinteros under video surveillance. According to the date and time stamp on the security footage presented at the suppression hearing, surveillance began around 16:23 (4:23 p.m.) on September 15, 2009 (Defendant's Exhibit 2).
Three drug task force agents, including Agent Weber, arrived at the hotel at 9:45 p.m. that night. The United States offered no explanation for the approximate 5 1/2 hour delay between the time the hotel advised the sheriff's office the Quinteros checked back into the hotel and the officers' arrival at the hotel. Security officers for the hotel told Agent Weber they believed two pickup trucks in the parking lot were associated with the Quinteros. One of the task force officers ran the license plates of the trucks and they came back registered to a construction company. A task force officer also walked a drug detecting dog around the trucks. The dog did not "hit" on the trucks. The officers thus believed the trucks were not involved in their investigation of the Quinteros.
At 10:26 p.m., the officers walked a K-9 unit outside Room 177, one of the two rooms associated with the Quinteros and their companions (Government's Exhibit 1). The dog did not "hit" on the room. At 10:33 p.m. the officers walked the K-9 outside Room 261, the room Manuel was staying in. Id. Once again, the dog did not "hit" on the room. Agent Weber admitted at the suppression hearing that he did not have probable cause to enter the room, so he decided to conduct a "knock and talk". The officers recorded the "knock and talk" on audio, which the Court admitted into evidence at the United States's request.
According to the recording, Agent Weber knocked on the Quinteros' hotel room door three separate times over the course of about 30 seconds. After the third time, a male inside the room asked "Who is it?" Agent Weber responded "security." Outside the room stood Agent Weber, Agent Weber's partner, two hotel security officers, and an associate manager of the hotel.*fn1
A male answered the door and officers identified him as Manuel Quintero. The lights were off in the room. Manuel walked into the hall and told the officers there was a female in the room who is not dressed (Government's Exhibit 1). At that time, Agent Weber commanded the female occupant, Michelle Quintero, to put on some clothes and step out into the hallway so he can talk to her. Id. While Michelle was getting dressed, Agent Weber advised Manuel the reason they were outside his room was because of the previous night and "some stuff" that was found in his room. Id. He asked Manuel if there was "anything in this room that shouldn't be in this room" also asked Manuel if he had any objection to the officers "just taking a look around" the room. Id. Manuel responded Michelle rented the room and did not give consent to allow the officers to enter the room.
Despite Manuel's response, Agent Weber asked Manuel again if there was "anything in this room that shouldn't be in there" and whether he had "anything on [him], no knives, bazookas, guns or anything?" Id. While Manuel stood in the hallway and Michelle was in the room, one of the other officers suggested "Why don't we just see if we can just go in there and talk to her [Michelle] while she gets dressed?" Id. Agent Weber indicated he wanted to wait until Michelle got dressed and again called out to Michelle to see if she was dressed. Id. When Michelle said she was not dressed, Agent Weber directed her to get dressed so he can come in and talk to her. A little while later, Agent Weber commanded Michelle to "just hurry up and get dressed." Id.
After four to five minutes of directing Michelle to get dressed, Michelle came to the door and said to the officers "You are scaring the shit out of me, what happened?" (Government's Exhibit 1). Agent Weber asked Michelle if she rented the room and then asked if they can come in. Id. Michelle's response is inaudible on the recording. At this point, Agent Weber told Michelle "We'll come in with you so we're not making a spectacle in the hallway." Id. The officers, security guards, and associate manager of the hotel entered the room and turned on the lights. Once they entered the room, Agent Weber testified the officers immediately began looking around the room visually. After identifying themselves, Agent Weber asked Michelle if there is anything in this room that should not be in this room. Id. Michelle responded "no" and "not that I know of." Id. He then asked Michelle if "she has any objection to us just taking a look around." Id. Her response was ambivalent. Agent Weber then told Michelle they have done so many searches that they have seen it all, and asked Michelle another time if she has any objection to them "just taking a look?" Id.
Agent Weber told Michelle the request to search stemmed from Manuel's room from the night before. Agent Weber then advised Michelle"if there's nothing in here, then you shouldn't have a problem with it [a search], right? I mean if there's, if there's whatever, a small amount of marijuana in here, whatever, you need to be comfortable and just say . . . you don't have anything?" Id. Michelle asked if she has a "right to ah" then said "I don't know" and then reiterated to the officers that they are "scaring the shit out of [her]." Id. Agent Weber informed Michelle that he was not there to scare her but just there "to play it straight." Id. Michelle reiterated "you're scaring me." Id. Agent Weber informed ...